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What Makes A Classic Football Match? Part 4: Manchester United 1-4 Liverpool

4.) Manchester United 1-4 Liverpool – 14 March 2009

Even after the mind-shattering come-from-behind win on 13 September (see Part 3), I couldn’t let myself feel too optimistic about the trip to Old Trafford. (Going into the biggest matches, I try to remain spiritually pragmatic.) 1-1 at O.T. would be a wonderful result. Another 2-1 Liverpool win would be legendary. Even if we were up 2-1 and United found one of their last-gasp injury-time scorchers (not that Liverpool hadn’t had their fair share of late miracles last season) and the match ended 2-2, I promised myself I ‘d be content with that result. Yes—if Liverpool could score two at O.T. (hey, Stevie G and El Nino were back… why not?) a draw would still make me happy enough.

But then, Park’s run spilled into the left side of the box. Pepe misjudged the danger and rushed out to contain the Korean international. Park tumbled. Pepe cursed himself. The ref gave the penalty.

I was fuming, convinced Park dived. (And this is why I should never be professionally commenting live if Liverpool are involved. Every call against Liverpool would be outrageous. Even if Steven Gerrard slammed his studs into a defender’s head while offsides, while diving, while giving the ref the v-sign, while bragging he’d slept with the ref’s wife, while taking his shirt off to celebrate… when he got sent off, I would still shake my fists and scream: “HEY! THAT’S NEVER A BOOKING!!! So… I don’t always see clearly in the nucleus of the moment. Thank God for replays. I’m often forced to concede: “Oh, okay. Right call. Sorry. Carry on.”)

So Park was fouled. And of course Ronaldo stepped to the spot. And of course he converted. And of  course my heart sunk to the heels of my Adidas.

We were down a goal again. (At least it was 23 min in rather than 3 min in—or maybe that’s worse—there’s less time to recover.) Only this time it was at Old Trafford. It felt like being three down.

Oh well, I thought. We already beat them once this season. That’s progress in the Rafa era.

But five minutes later, it’s Vidic letting the ball bounce (his first mistake of the day). Then it’s Torres bringing his foot around Vidic’s midriff, slapping the ball into space. Then it’s Vidic losing his balance—tumbling. Torres peels after the ball—he’s one-on-one with Edwin van der Startled—Torres waits for his moment—he waits—he moves—he strikes—the shot careens toward the far post—the bounce—and—it’s—IN!!!!

Then, as half-time nears, it’s Stevie rounding Evra. Evra doesn’t see him until Stevie’s pulling ahead. Stevie gets a touch on the ball just as Evra goes to ground. Evra’s leg sweeps Stevie’s feet. The whistle blows. Evra—like Reina, a consumate professional— can’t believe he’s made such a mistake under pressure.

Stevie steps to the spot and blasts it to the right. And we’re up a goal… The moment hangs in my mind like Gerrard’s saliva clinging to the television screen (he’d kissed the corner flag camera to celebrate).

The scoreline could have remained 1-2. I would have been ecstatic. But in the 75th minute, Lucas finds Kuyt with a long ball. Kuyt tries to put it through for Gerrard. It ricochets off Vidic but Stevie gets ahold of it anyway. He’s a touch, a turn from being one-on-one with van der Sar. Vidic knows it. He grabs Gerrard by the crotch and pulls him down. Twist and cough, mate. The ref is not happy with the impromtu cup-check and Vidic gets the red card.

Fabio Aurelio kicks the ball over the wall and in. Liverpool are up by two.

Now, I’m about to go against my own criteria a little. I’ve said a classic should be a close match. Ideally with a late winner. So a 1-4 scoreline poses some problems compared with the 2-3s and the 2-1 I’ve already discussed in this cycle of articles.

But a two goal cushion (Liverpool wouldn’t score the fourth until injury time) doesn’t feel like much of a gap against United at Old Trafford. Even if they are down to ten men. They are still United. They still had Ronaldo. A man who can create a chance out of nothing in no time at all. So the minutes after Aurelio’s goal felt as tense as any 2-2 match I’ve seen. One goal at any time and they are back in it. At least to fight for a point.

Then, ten seconds into stoppage time, Pepe Reina’s long kick finds substitute Andres Dossena who lets it bounce once before hitting a side-foot-volley-lob over van der Sar’s head and in. We did it!!!! (And I’d like to add: I love seeing the substitute score. Dossena, Babel and Torres have all scored off the bench in these matches. Not a strict criterion for a classic, but definitely a worthwhile consideration.)

Emotionally, this was my favorite match of the season. The City game was more of a well rounded classic. The United match at Anfield was a better performance and a more suspenseful outing. The visit to Portsmouth was simply as strange as it was satisfying. But scoring 4 goals at Old Trafford, coming from behind again and having such a variety of goals (the one-on-one, the penalty, the one-of-the-sexiest-free-kicks-I’ve-ever-seen, and the long service to half-volley-side-foot-lob-shot) and the opponents getting an ejection… I just can’t imagine more thrills.

So those are my biased nominations for Football Classic  from 08/09. I’d love to hear what others think and what matches you’d pick. Let me know in the comment section.

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  1. Shakira

    July 17, 2009 at 1:56 am

    I fail to see how this is a classic unless you are a Liverpool supporter. Sure it was a good win for the vermin but how this trumps the 4-4 against Chelsea is beyond me.

    • Jerry

      July 17, 2009 at 8:49 am

      “a good win for the vermin”

      Nice. That comment just oozes class and dignity.

  2. Matt

    July 16, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    Stopped reading at the “offsides” part. How can someone be offsides? Do they split themselves both sides of the defender?

    The player is offside, not offsides.

  3. matt

    July 16, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    a favorite image

  4. T-Bull

    July 16, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    Liverpool is one of many storied clubs in a the upper tier of English football, and there is nothing wrong with being bias towards LFC , Chelsea , the Gooners, or Man U. ( you can’t spell ManUre without it).
    I agree with the comment that part 4 is hardly a classic , unless you are a Red or you hate Man U. The City match or the Northwest Derby at Anfield are more worthy than this one.
    As a Red, I thoroughly enjoyed the series, and I look forward to a new and exciting season of EPL.
    Maybe the Red Devils could loan the Barclay’s trophy to another club this year, and maybe one day Man. U. can have a “5” on the sleeve of their Champions League kit.

    Love to all of those passionate about their football…..

  5. bigtfw

    July 16, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    Just another Liverpool push over from EPL Talk. No wonder you guys are so against WSD when all you do is suck LFC and LFCNY’s C**K.

    Sorry but it is the truth, constantly on here you guys have been all about Liverpool, a team that hasnt won and EPL title or a league title for that matter for 19 years.

  6. dkptiger

    July 16, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    ethan, you simply dont get it. every football fan can appreciate Fever Pitch for the passion and struggle we all experience when we support our team. for me, it was of little consequence that he was talking about arsenal. likewise, i think blog writers are allowed to wear their support on their sleeves, however they must understand that the reader may find their “passion” nothing more than a blinkered opinion of someone with far too much time and too little sense.

    i ask all supporters, think back, what is the best match youve EVER seen. im sure you can come up with 5 that involve your favorite club. now.. think about it even harder, not just the first to come to mind. the 4 goal stunner, the comeback, the unlikeliest of hero, the dodgy decision. it is the mind of this reader, that the storyline off the pitch (league table, rivalry, trophies won and lost) should never make the match. it can simply take a match from being one of the best, to legendary status.

    oh and to note, my bias against liverpool should be considered when you write too. if you are truly a gifted writer, you should challenge my bias and anticipate my criticism. but i remember the build up to the match, the highs and lows of emotion, and the results that followed and how it made me feel. it was a very important match. however never in a million years would i consider it a great match.

  7. AJunky

    July 16, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    Ethan Armstrong!!

    My gf says she would kiss your hands if ever she meets you, although I am the RED and she a (slow and painful) cricket fan, but still!!

    She likes your writing style…. and I? I Love it, absolutely Love it! 😉

    ps: the Torres goal description, felt like I am reliving it again!! 🙂

  8. Joaq

    July 16, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    This match was definitely a classic for pool supporters. Not a classic match per say, but a very memorable one for the Scouse. Nice article Ethan. I have to say, Part 1 is by far my favorite. Like this one a lot better. Keep it up lad.

    • Ethan Armstrong

      July 16, 2009 at 1:15 pm


      Thanks for giving Part 4 a chance.



      • Joaq

        July 16, 2009 at 1:17 pm

        Of course lad.

  9. Pat

    July 16, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    So I have to admit to having my own bias as an Everton fan. (Oddly enough, I’ve never felt any animosity to Liverpool. I know, heresy for a Toffee, but there it is. The Red Devils or the Newcastle Hacks now…)

    Seriously though, no offense, flaming, or trolling intended. 🙂

    My favorite game from last season occured on March 21st though, at Craven Cottage. Fulham’s 2-0 upset of Manchester United was as tense a match I’ve seen in a while. The early red card and penalty gave Fulham the lead, but this was Manchester United we were talking about! Surely they would come back! Schwarzer, Hangeland, and Konchesky of course had other ideas. Staunch defending, hope growing as the clock wound on. Suddenly, the counter was on and Zoltan Gera (the sub!) scored on an absolutely ugly-yet-beautiful move. Followed a minute later by none other than Rooney being sent off for a temper tantrum (a second opposing red!) and the champions finishing their collapse on the day.

    Just my two cents. 😉

  10. Bren

    July 16, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    MICHAEL TAN @ least we didn`t bring out a video of our win against man u after each win.

  11. steven g. lougainis

    July 16, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    How about the two 0-0 draws with Stoke CIty? Or the loss to Boro? Those were classic Liverpool right there. Real classic matches are the ones that win you the league… and unfortunately the scouse haven’t had one of those in about two decades.

  12. dkptiger

    July 16, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    i dont see how thats anyone match of the season but man united haters and scousers. perhaps a personal blog would be better suited.. your opinion should come out of your articles, see the gaffer. but to be unapologetically biased and not even make an attempt to talk to a wide audience is ignorant. i frequent websites and blogs for my club, in order to get that focused perspective, but even if thats your favorite match.. perhaps try and convince us rather than just say why it was good for a scouser.

    • Ethan Armstrong

      July 16, 2009 at 1:10 pm


      Surely there’s a truckload of articles out there discussing the best matches of the season from an objective standpoint. I was attempting something different with a discussion of the fan’s perspective. This meant putting my bias up front and talking with my passion of a fan. My hope was there would be more discussion in the comments with other’s volunteering their own picks as supporters.

      I thank those who took me up on that invitation.

      I tried to convince with details of the action and describing that emotional journey of the highs and lows of these matches. Perhaps if I’d left out the club names and players names it would appeal to more people. In the end I think if one comes to these articles with a bias against Liverpool or Gerrard or Benitez or whatever, then it’s difficult to grab your attention. As I’ve alluded to before: I don’t think Spurs supporters are giving each other copies of Fever Pitch for birthday presents.

      So the articles are not for everyone (and perhaps I shouldn’t have ended with the most biased choice). But I hope all four pieces have a broad appeal, because anyone open to reading about another club can appreciate this kind of ride even if Liverpool are not their club. I enjoy Fever Pitch and articles in FourFourTwo or When Saturday Comes that are about players from other clubs. I hope this kind of writing can have some appeal in this area.

      As ever, the door is open in this comment section for other voices to share their idea of the classic supporter’s match.

  13. Vernon

    July 16, 2009 at 11:57 am

    How about the 4-4 Liverpool – Chelsea Champion League match aka The Game of the Century? That’s more of a classic that your four choices combined.

  14. Silad

    July 16, 2009 at 11:56 am

    This was definately my game of the season as well. For sheer happiness only winning a trophy beats it.
    I think you do give the Manc’s too much respect though. Although when you watch it live your bottles going but when you watch it again knowing the result, you can see how easy we won. Apart from Park’s dive (watch it in slow mo, he’s on his was down before he makes impact with Pepe’s arms) they didn’t threaten.
    United have/had a better squad than us but our best 11 beats there best 11 hands down.

  15. Spenser

    July 16, 2009 at 11:39 am

    this was probably my game of the season. it helps that you’re writing this series as a Liverpool fan, that makes it that much more enjoyable

  16. Ethan Armstrong

    July 16, 2009 at 11:39 am


    Two of my nominees for “perceived” classic status were fixtures against Manchester City and Portsmouth (links above). I also said in a comment that many neutrals would probably pick the 4-4 match against Arsenal over my choices. The wins over Chelsea were great, but since Liverpool didn’t concede a goal they didn’t fit into my personal framework of a classic. All four of the matches I discussed involved Liverpool coming from behind. The Middlesbrough match with Carra and Gerrard’s late goals and the Wigan match where Zaki scored two and Liverpool came from behind twice were close contenders. But the four matches I discussed meant the most to me. The first two times Rafa beat Manchester United in the league certainly played an important part. I never hid my bias and I made it clear context played a part in my choices.

  17. Michael Tan

    July 16, 2009 at 11:12 am

    haha, biased indeed? … every perceived classic’s a pool win over the devils … MU shd be so honored. Its as if there are no other good teams or games around … are the devils really that good? Guess so … other fans might disagree but certainly not Ethan. 🙂

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